Tuesday, April 1, 2008

National Marathon Course Considerations

I listened to Keith Dowling, the SunTrust National Marathon Race Director, speak at the annual banquet for the DC Road Runners on Sunday. He is a noted runner in his own right. He was the first American at the 2002 Boston Marathon, 15th overall, in a time of 2:13:28.

He was visibly relaxed, as the marathon he had just directed the day before went pretty well. You could tell though, that he was already starting to fret about the next one coming up in 364 short days. Such is the life of a major race director. (Right: Keith setting his PR at the 2002 Boston Marathon. Photo credit Alison Wade.)

The first year of this three-year old race there were traffic issues. This led to the part of the course in Prince Georges County being abandoned (a really hilly part along Central Avenue and East Capitol Street that I called the Seven Hills of Hell) and the race was brought entirely within the District.

The second year there were distance issues with the half-marathon course which ran a little long due to an AWOL course marshal. Many runners were outraged, especially those that can’t walk down the sidewalk without consulting their Garmins. Personally, I think that everybody ran the same distance, and the times were a little slow. So what.

This year there were no major problems that I know of. Michael Wardian from Arlington won the race for the third straight year in course record time and then immediately left for Knoxville, where he hoped to win its marathon the very next day. (He was leading until the last mile when he was overhauled and he finished third.)

Some tidbits I learned: The marching band placed strategically at the highpoint of the course near McMillan Reservoir was the Howard University band, fulfilling a course requirement by performing at the race. I would grade them an A+. They were good!

The day before the race Metro announced it would open two hours early at 5 am. Many runners took it to the 7 am race. The mayor, an avid runner (3:40 on Saturday), had something to do with that.

The first sponsor, Wirefly, went through a financial restructuring and SunTrust, with its rock-solid history of sponsoring the respected Richmond Marathon, stepped in.

The marathon featured running teams while the half marathon did not. The rationale behind that is to allow the longer race to have some stand-alone features, so the popularity of the half marathon doesn’t overwhelm the marathon.

The qualifying times for the race, not always popular with runners, were installed as a way to ensure that the roads reopened in a judicious fashion. Another way to achieve this is by using a rigid timetable to reopen roads, but a benefit from the qualification approach is that it ensures that everyone on the course has raced before. This eliminates running novices who show up merely trying to do 13 or 26 miles without any prior preparation, an approach that can lead to injury or even tragedy.

Tweaking the course is always under consideration. The race is a tour of the four quadrants of the city and passes by many of its numerous monuments. (Seeing the dome of the Capitol for the first ten minutes of the race, brilliantly reflecting the sun rising behind the runners, is a good start to the day.) The course currently runs past the Washington Monument but not down to the Lincoln Memorial. Changing that is under discussion.

The course was flipped around from last year’s route so it would reopen the denser NW quadrant to traffic first, not last. The sparsely inhabited SE section along the Anacostia is now run last, not earlier in the race. The traffic control officials apparently like this course the best.

It was interesting to hear about considerations of a major marathon from its director. Keith does a great job.

My personal opinion is that you gotta do this race. I mean it. Last year I thought it was really cool to run in the 9th Street traffic tunnel under the Mall during the race, where otherwise pedestrians cannot go. This year the runners ran in the Connecticut Avenue traffic tunnel under Dupont Circle, where you could never venture on foot normally. It was cool running through there even though it was uphill coming out.


PMW said...

Thanks for your post on Keith's remarks...living in Baltimore (despite being raised a Washingtonian), it's great to read your blog and get a view on the DC running circuit.

I ran the half on Saturday (my first ever) and really enjoyed the course as well. Running down Constitution Ave. was fantastic and made me wish I could run in DC every morning rather than drab downtown Baltimore and running through those tunnels was a trip.

Can't wait to run this race next year. It's a great compliment to the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler.

nylisa said...

If I lived in DC I would definitely take advantage of running there. It's such a nice backdrop. Congrats on being the VP of Training!

Anonymous said...

Congrats Peter on a great race. Sounds like you, Jeanne and Sasha tore up the streets of DC! I feel privileged to have been part of the inaugural race, but hope to get back for the revamped one someday. Sad I'll be missing the CB 10-miler too. You were a great cheerleader last year!

Next up, the 3-miler? Who's the woman runner? Good luck, and tell Commish that he's a good man for keeping us in the game!

Congrats on the new position -- glad to see they're giving you a title for all your efforts! -A

jeanne said...

I LOVED this race. I thought it was one of the best organized races I'd ever been to. As far as I could tell, from my vantage point pacing the sag wagon, it went off without a hitch.

I give it and Keith 5 stars and a thumbs up!

And same to you for organizing the Reebok Training Group. For once, I got nothin' to complain about!

Just12Finish said...

Hmm, you're right, I don't even recall a tunnel on Conn. under Dupont Circle!

Just12Finish said...

Hmm, you're right, I don't even recall a tunnel on Conn. under Dupont Circle!

Jade Lady said...

This was such an interesting post - I can't imagine all the stuff a race director goes thru - when everything goes smoothly, you know it's because of a lot of planning and hard work behind the scenes.